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When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine? Everything you need to know now

Everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines, from side effects to when it will be available to the general population.

As Johnson & Johnson seeks emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, some states are advancing to the 1B phase of vaccinations. While vaccine distribution and accessibility is still a work in progress, many are left with questions about when they'll be eligible for a vaccine — and when they'll actually get a shot.

NBC News has launched Plan Your Vaccine, a tool to help every American navigate access to a COVID-19 vaccine, wherever they live. Check out the tool, and read on for more commonly asked questions regarding the vaccines.

When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

In late January, President Biden increased the vaccination goal for his first 100 days in office, from 100 million doses in arms to 150 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of early February, over 44 million doses had been administered.

Most states are still prioritizing vaccines for health care workers, long-term care facility residents and the elderly population.

When will the vaccine be available for the general population?

On TODAY this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that vaccine distribution could pick up as early as spring. He added that by April, the country could be in "open season" for all age groups to receive shots.

In late January, President Biden said he anticipates anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one this spring, but stressed it will be "a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we've ever tried in this country," CNBC reported.

“I feel confident that by summer we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity,” Biden said.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky echoed Biden's comments on TODAY, stressing that vaccines would not be readily available at pharmacies just yet.

"I don't think late February we're going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country," Walensky said. "We said 100 million doses in the first 100 days, and we're going to stick to that plan, but also want to be very cognizant of the fact that after 100 days, there are still a lot of Americans who need vaccine, so we have our pedal to the metal to make sure we can get as much vaccine out there."

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

NBC News medical correspondent Dr. Kavita Patel shared her view about the safety of Pfizer's vaccine on Weekend TODAY. "Here's why I feel it's safe. It's really because of the transparency around the data. The shortcut, so to speak, really, in terms of time, was not from safety. It was from combining and running phases 1 and 2 essentially in parallel, where normally they would be contiguous," she said.

"Phase 3, the most important, because it had up to 44,000 people enrolled across the world in this trial, was not shortcut and the FDA was really clear that they wanted to see follow-on data and incredibly detailed statistics which were fully produced in the New England Journal of Medicine as well as the FDA's advisory packet," she continued.

Fauci has routinely stressed his confidence in the approval process.

"... The FDA of the United States is the gold standard for regulatory (approvals) looking at things like drugs and devices and vaccines, there's no question about that," Fauci said on TODAY recently. Fauci explained that more than 90% of adverse events related to new vaccines occur between 30 and 45 days of taking them, which has been factored into the testing process for their approval.

A portion of Americans remain hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, though according to a new report from the CDC confidence is rising.

How many shots is the vaccine?

Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses, with the second shot administered 21 days after the first injection. Moderna also requires two doses and should be given 28 days apart. NBC News recently reported that the timing of the second shot doesn't need to be exact and could occur up to six weeks after the first dose.

If approved for emergency use authorization, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will require just one shot.

I had COVID-19. Should I get vaccinated?

"The answer is very likely yes," said Fauci. "... Since we don't know the durability of protection from someone who has already been infected, how long that protection lasts, it would not be surprising that we would be vaccinating people who have recovered from COVID-19."

New variants of the virus that may be leading to more cases of reinfection is another reason for recently recovered COVID-19 patients to become vaccinated.

Are there side effects to the COVID-19 vaccine?

"The side effects have been minor ... Injection site soreness, or redness in the arm, maybe a little lump where you get the shot, fatigue, headaches. Those are the ones the majority of people had, some people complained of muscle aches. But everyone said it went away within a day and a half," NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres explained on TODAY.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Kavita Patel answered questions on TODAY about whether or not symptoms are more severe after the second dose. Patel herself reported that she experienced flu-like symptoms after receiving her second shot. The CDC recommends talking to your doctor before taking an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

“These symptoms mean your immune system is revving up and the vaccine is working,” Walensky said in a recent news briefing.

Will kids be able to get a vaccine?

Pfizer has enrolled a portion of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 in clinical trials, but it is too soon to know the results of the immune response and safety in kids.

Torres said on Weekend TODAY, "That's the big question. Right now, the emergency use authorization: 16 years old and above. They're studying 12-17 year olds — Pfizer is. Moderna is going to start studying them as well. Until we get more information on this, they won't start really studying the 0-4 year olds at this point.

"What they're trying to do is school kids, get the shot to them this summer so when they go back to school, they're protected. It's going to be a little bit longer for those 1-4 year olds though."

Will pregnant people be able to get a vaccine?

According to the CDC, people who are pregnant and part of a group recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, such as health care workers, may choose to be vaccinated. Though there is only limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines given during pregnancy, pregnant people can discuss with their doctors if vaccination is right for them.

No safety concerns were demonstrated in rats that received Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy; studies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are ongoing, the CDC reported. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are monitoring people who became pregnant during clinical trials.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

To date, there are three main types of COVID-19 vaccines. The two approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, use messenger RNA, or mRNA, to trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies without using actual bits of the virus, NBC News reported.

The others are either protein subunit or vector vaccines; the CDC details how they work here. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is in the latter group, using an inactivated adenovirus to prompt our bodies to create an immune response. It's important to note that none of these types of vaccines can give you the coronavirus.

Will the vaccine be mandatory?

“You don't want to mandate and try and force anyone to take the vaccine. We've never done that. You can mandate for certain groups of people like health workers, but for the general population you cannot,” Fauci said in August.

“We don't want to be mandating from the federal government to the general population. It would be unenforceable and not appropriate.”

Though there are ways the government could encourage vaccination by imposing it as a condition of getting a passport, for example. Could your employer mandate it? Read more about what the law says here.

How much will the vaccine cost?

Operation Warp Speed is committed to providing free or low-cost COVID-19 countermeasures to the American people as fast as possible. Any vaccine or therapeutic doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost, the government site for the initiative states.

There may be a fee associated with administering the vaccine, NBC News consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen explained on TODAY.

How will the vaccine be distributed?

The federal government will oversee distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In January, President Biden said he would deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to set up vaccine clinics, NBC News reported.

The CDC is working with state, tribal, territorial and local jurisdictions on vaccination plans for their areas. They are also working with chain pharmacies like CVS Health and Walgreens.

Will I need to get a COVID-19 vaccine every year?

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC that idea is likely.

“Unfortunately, as (the virus) spreads it can also mutate,” Gorsky told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell. “Every time it mutates, it’s almost like another click of the dial so to speak where we can see another variant, another mutation that can have an impact on its ability to fend off antibodies or to have a different kind of response not only to a therapeutic but also to a vaccine.”

Earlier this year on TODAY, Torres offered a similar explanation: "We think it's going to last a few years. It's not going to be like the flu shot at least initially, but researchers have to look at it. They have to follow people who got the shot. They have to follow the virus to make sure it hasn't changed. But so far, since the beginning, the virus has not changed that much, which means researchers think it can last a few years, hopefully even longer."

Until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available, the best thing to do is to continue to follow mitigation methods that are proven to work like mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing.

I've been vaccinated. Do I still need to wear a mask?

Yes, for several reasons. The current COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, spaced out weeks apart. After being vaccinated, a person will acquire full immunity up to two weeks after their second dose. Though it's important to note that none of the vaccines are 100% effective, so you are still at risk for contracting COVID-19.

Research is still ongoing concerning whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit COVID-19, which is another reason why everyone still needs to wear a mask.

If grandparents are vaccinated, can they see grandkids again?

Experts still stress caution, since it will be a while until young kids can be vaccinated. Read more about what experts say.

Most of my family has been vaccinated, can we see each other more regularly now?

Once everyone in a family is vaccinated, experts say that it will be safer for families to gather, but it will be several months before the vaccine is readily available to the general public. Here is what else you need to know.

This story was updated on Feb. 11, 2021 to include more questions about the vaccine.